Religion Booknotes

Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators
Translated and edited by Robert Louis Wilken, et al.
Eerdmans, $45, 618 pp.

When as a young neophyte Augustine asked Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, what part of the Bible he should start with, Ambrose answered, “Isaiah.” That great prophet was, and is, central for Christians. His words are echoed throughout the New Testament, and his voice is often heard in the liturgy. 

As Robert Louis Wilken makes clear in his contribution to “The Church’s Bible” series, patristic and medieval commentators drew from the pages of Isaiah both the promise and fulfillment of the coming Messiah, but Isaiah was also crucial for the development of Mariology. Most readers will be familiar with this passage from Christmastide: “A shoot shall come out of the root of Jesse / a blossom shall come out of his root” (Isaiah 11:1). In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr read this as a clear reference to Christ. Ten centuries later, Bernard of Clairvaux was just as confident that the shoot signified the Virgin and the blossom the virgin birth. In the development from Justin Martyr to Bernard, we find a context for such things as the “Jesse Tree” and the frequent iconographic allusions to flora found in Medieval and Renaissance art. There are...

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About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.